A recently divorced father of two, Phillip has recently begun the process of coming out. He describes his struggle to be straight, his relationships and encounters with men before coming out, his marriage, and the people and resources that have helped him change his feelings about being attracted to men.
I’m 46. I was born in the UK in 1959, but I came here when I was six months old. I grew up in the western suburbs of Melbourne. My Dad was a labourer. He got rather homesick so he took us back to the UK in 1969, then again in 1973.
A warm, funny feeling
I had a little mate when I was eight or nine years old that I used to play with. And that became sexual. That was the first time I looked at another human being and had a warm, funny feeling and I was only eight or nine years old – incredible!
I was at an all-boys private college and the boys all got changed in the same change room; we all had to have showers and I hated it. I was very self-conscious. I didn’t mind looking and some of them didn’t mind showing off either.
Some of them were aroused. I was afraid that I would be too, so I used to cover myself up. That was probably the first instance where I tried to hide.
It’s an unspoken and unwritten rule: homosexuality in western society is unacceptable. That message was everywhere around you in the 60s and the 70s when I grew up. If anybody talked about homosexual men, they talked about queers and, you know, the tone in the voice that was used, the language around it, the narratives that were used were derogatory, derisive, unhealthy and very negative and a lot of stereotyping which we all know - the popular mincing, limp-wristed thing.
‘I’m homosexual. Shit!’
When we came back out to Australia in 1974, I went back to this private Catholic secondary college. Things had moved on a bit and I’d become aware of the fact that, uh, I’m homosexual. Shit! And you feel the world closing in on you because you know that’s just not going to cut it for anybody. I just knew in my heart of hearts no one would accept it and certainly not my parents. Maybe I didn’t want to lose my mother’s and my father’s love and approval. And I said, ‘All right, I’ll do the brave thing, I’ll get myself cured. Fixed’.
I feel really bitter about this now because the person I went to was in a position of quite senior responsibility at the school. I said to him, ‘I think I’m a homosexual and I don’t want to be’. And he basically said, ‘Well don’t think about it’, as if it’s going to go away. At fifteen, that’s not very good advice.
‘You’re not a homosexual’
So, I went to see a school counsellor who had some training in psychology. He said something to me along the lines of, ‘You’re not a homosexual because you’re not doing it. Not like all those guys out there’ - because there was a group that everybody suspected of being outright gay. One or two of them had more or less admitted as much to me at the time. So, I went away even more bewildered.
After I left school I discovered that there were these porn bookshops; there were quite a few in Melbourne in those days, and the magazines over which my heart skipped a beat were the ones with all the naked men in them. I started buying them and I’d keep them hidden in the boot of my car and take them to work. I wouldn’t leave them in my room in case my mother went in there.
I had so many of them I’d spend an hour over the incinerator at the back burning them to leave room for the next lot. Looking back, some of the guys in the photos ended up becoming B-grade movie stars that people talk about now, but they have no idea where these boys have been.
One day I decided I needed some new material. I went into this shop; there was a young guy behind the counter and I’m looking at a gay magazine and he started showing me all the good ones. Suddenly he came up to me and said, ‘Do you want a bit?’ and before I knew it what was happening he’d locked the shop, my pants were down and he had his mouth around my dick and I don’t know how many orgasms I had. I thought, ‘This can’t be happening; this isn’t real’. I just went numb. I went into shock.
‘Sorry to freak you out’
He came out with a towel; we cleaned up. He didn’t get any orgasms that day. He said, ‘Sorry to freak you out’, but I was in such a daze. I wasn’t handling it very well at all. I mumbled something like, ‘Do you work here all the time?’ Then I went home.
I thought, ‘You’ve lost any pretence to your innocence or innocence you’ve ever had: God what have you done?’ I just remember going through the rest of the evening in a daze. I was scared, really scared. It was the wrong way to have the sex experience, but that’s what happened.
After that, while I was at trade college learning cooking, I had a crush on one of my fellow students and we managed to get into some sort of mucking around out camping one day. He suddenly realised what was going on and wanted to go home. The next year he gave me the cold shoulder and didn’t want to know me.
I was 22. I went to work in a very large hospital. There I socialised with members of the kitchen crew and began an impossible romance with another male who ended up getting married. At that stage there were a number of staff who were openly gay and who were in openly gay relationships.
He slept in my double bed
I moved in with this gay couple. There was no threesome or anything; that would mean admitting I was gay and I wasn’t going to do that. Then that other guy that I was attracted to got kicked out of home and he moved in with me.
He slept in my double bed. He must have known that I had some affection for him and it was pure agony lying there in the same bed with him, night after night, with nothing happening. He worked it out that he was just torturing me. He knew I was attracted to him.
Subsequently, he ended up moving in with his girlfriend, and I got another job somewhere else. I moved out to get a place of my own. While I was there, I starting checking out beats, toilets and people hiding out there, all this sort of thing. I did start down that path a bit. (Cruising)
There was another guy I worked with. We just hooked up. At first it was just a friendly interest – the blokey thing. He was an apprentice chef; I was qualified by then. I went over to his place once – I think it was the second time - and he said to me, ‘I guess you know I’m falling in love with you’. And I think I said something like, ‘Yeah, it’s all right’. I’m thinking, ‘Shit, what do I say now?’
I liked him
I liked him. We had some things in common. We were both into motorbikes. I didn’t have one but he had a Yamaha XJ750 – I think that was part of the attraction.
One evening I went to his place. At the end of the night he said, ‘Well if you don’t want to go home tonight, you can sleep on the couch.’ It wasn’t a couch at all; it was something he’d made that was hard; just particle boards, bits and cushions - you’d have to want to sleep on a bed of nails to want to sleep on this thing - and then he said, ‘Well, you can sleep in my bedroom, provided you can behave yourself’.
One thing led to another
As if I was going to sleep on the couch! I thought, ‘Two young blokes in the same bed – there’ll be no behaving ourselves’, and there wasn’t. It started off with him rubbing my back and one thing led to another and before you know it, there were two orgasms. And I can just remember the feeling of sweet ecstasy afterwards, just thinking, yes, it feels OK; it’s all right.
We stayed together for around 18 months. He came out to his parents – and my parents found out that I’d been in there. I don’t think they ever believed that I slept on his couch, because it was so uncomfortable. Mum would say ‘How could you sleep on that?’
Gay men are completely promiscuous
He had another motorcycle accident. He smashed his leg up and I nursed him back to health; I was at home with him. This was 1984, so still in the early days of the AIDS problem, and my greatest fear was when he went away for a holiday. I said to him, ‘Just make sure that you come home clean’, because, even then, I had this perception, as many people do, that gay men are completely promiscuous and take no precautions. (sexual health)
Some of that was based on what I heard the gay couple I lived with talking about once. One of them said, ‘I want to go through the flesh-pots in South America’. And his partner said, ’Well, if you do that and you get a disease of some sort, don’t come home’. So there was a bit of a spat between those two and I never forgot that.
Anyway, this guy got his health back, his legs repaired after a bone graft and everything else, and his parents moved up to Queensland. We talked about it and decided to move up to Queensland, as they were both accepting of our relationship.
He kicked me out of the bedroom
So, I said yes to moving to Queensland, but for some reason I dragged my feet and it was three months before I moved up. I was only up there for five and a half months because, despite the fact that I thought our sex life had improved, he ended up seeing a woman. So he kicked me out of the bedroom and basically asked me to move into a pokey little room right next door, which I did.
I think the three months that I wasted had put the death sentence on the relationship. When we first got together I was in seventh heaven. And then, when he told me to move rooms, I was devastated. Absolutely shattered.
As a more gentle initiation into the world of gay sex it was probably as much as anyone could ever hope for. I felt safe and secure and comfortable with him. That’s what tore me apart at the finish and maybe that’s why I didn’t really want to acknowledge to myself the depth of feeling I had for him.
When I got back to Melbourne, I didn’t go back into the kitchen, I went back to a factory laboring job that I’d had before I went to Queensland. I got in with a crowd there. They were butch macho types: tattoos, and there was lots of alcohol, and drugs - and to this day I still don’t know what drugs they were.
He’d kill me
I got in with this crowd quite deliberately. I was rebounding. One of these guys rode a motorbike too. I’d had a bit of a crush on him before. He and his half brother worked at this factory. His brother worked out that I’d had a gay relationship. He told me at the time not to ever tell his brother about it, because he’d kill me. But when his brother finally worked it out for himself, if anything, he did the exact opposite.
He ended up moving into a flat with me. One day he got home in the wee hours of the morning and he called out to me. I was out in the kitchen in my dressing gown, making coffee. He called me into his room: ‘I want you to come and look at something’.
He was stark naked
He was stark naked and he had an erection. There he was, lying on his side, masturbating. He reached around, lifted one cheek up and said, ‘You gotta put some cream on this’. He said it was sore.
I said I’d go and look for something. I said that just to get me out of there, so I could figure out what I was going to do next. I thought, ‘God, this is bizarre!’ So I came back in and said, ‘Look, I haven’t got anything’, which was only a half-truth - I just hadn’t bothered looking.
He wants a fuck
Anyway, we ended up getting the ruler out and measuring his dick - this is what straight males do! - and he told me he thought that I had a very big cock, blah blah blah. I was still a little dumbstruck. I turned around to measure my length and, as I’m doing that, I feel his finger lifting the dressing gown up so he can have a look at my backside and I thought, ‘he wants a fuck; that’s what he’s after’. As if it wasn’t already obvious.
I ended up saying, ‘I’m going to pull off now’, so I lay down on my back somewhere and just went for it. And he springs into action; he starts jumping round the room. ‘Hey’, he said, ‘do you want to pull me off?’ And I just looked at him: yes, I would have liked to, but I didn’t trust him. Then he said ‘ Uh, no, I was just gagging’.
He straddles me
So, anyway, I had my orgasm and the next thing I know, he straddles me with his bum to my face and he says ‘I’m going to pull off over you. But not before he delved his hands into my crotch like this, one finger in my anus and his thumb and the rest of his fingers wrapped round my sticky member. And he masturbated to orgasm.
It was just bizarre. You’d have to understand the nature of the relationship to understand where I’m coming from. I mean, this would be like the man of your dreams walking into your life when you least expected it. You’re thinking all along that he’s straight, because he’s fucking all these females, and the next thing you know, he’s just making himself really available to you.
I didn’t trust him
But, because of what I knew of him, I didn’t trust him. I felt that, had I gone and done what I would have loved to have done with him, it would have rebounded fairly seriously, and to this day I’m glad I didn’t. I’m glad it went no further than it did.
I grabbed one of his t-shirts - not one of mine - and wiped his cum off me thinking, ‘I hope I can’t get AIDS from this’, because I knew he was promiscuous and he didn’t like using condoms. He hated them, and for understandable reasons. Skin-to-skin contact is always nicer than the rubber intermediary. (safe sex)
He didn’t want to know me
Later that day, after this had happened in the morning, I met up with him in the pub: he knew what he had done with me and he knew he had let himself go and he didn’t want to know me. He said to me, ‘What do you want?’ It just confirmed why I didn’t feel so safe with him: it could have turned really nasty really quickly.
There were people he associated with at the time who could have made my life not just uncomfortable but who could have been physically dangerous. I remember this as one of the scariest episodes of my life. I found out afterwards he had told other people what we’d done and I thought, ‘I knew I couldn’t trust you’. It’s a really awful experience.
That was a pretty torrid Christmas-New Year that year. I spent most of my time completely zonked on drink and drugs. After that I moved. I just got out of there. I found another place to live and he and his friend moved in with me afterwards. That didn’t last very long. I had changed jobs again and I was working in a hospital kitchen and that was where I met the woman I was going to marry.
So, this is where a very unhappy marriage started. We met; we ended up having children. I lived in Tasmania. I married into a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses. And to cap it all off, her father was the presiding overseer in the congregation that we went to and, of course, there’s a biblical injunction against men who lie down with other men because it’s an abomination of the Lord. (Religion and sexuality)
I wanted to believe that I could be attracted to women; I wanted to believe that I could be straight. I didn’t want to be a homosexual any more: I saw it as dangerous, compromised and, other than the early days, I didn’t really have any positive experiences.
A fairy-tale wedding
It was a mutual attraction in a way and I was head-over-heels in love with her. We had a fairy-tale wedding in the day and a reception afterwards. It was a blast and, as I’ve read in so many books recently, the first two or three years for a gay man in a heterosexual marriage, where he is repressing or avoiding his true sexual nature, are really good; they can even be exciting.
My gay fantasies
The rosy glow started to deteriorate after the arrival of the first child. While we were having foreplay, I’d be having my gay fantasies and it pretty much stayed that way. We were sexually active but not with any real passion. When you have that disharmony in intimate sexual relationship with somebody you’re supposed to be in love with, it’s poison. It just doesn’t work. It got to a point where it just stopped.
She put two and two together
I had some photographs of some of the friends I’ve had in the past and she found them. They weren’t at all explicit but it was obvious what was behind them. So she put two and two together and I said to her, ‘Well, I was going to tell you about that’.
In the heat of the moment, in an argument, she never held back on calling me all sorts of names associated with being gay. Poofter, gaybait, names like that. And it was hurtful, spiteful stuff. During my marriage, all I had ever done was eye off some guy at a pool that was particularly attractive, but I didn’t do anything about it.
‘That’s OK, Dad’
My daughter found out about the gay relationship that I’d had previously, because her mother mentioned it in a moment of putting me down. And I felt, well, I’m going to take the sting out of that and tell her myself. I didn’t go into any great detail or see the necessity, but she needed to hear that truth from me. So I told her. It was very easy. She said, ‘That’s OK, Dad, as long as you’re happy’. That was a relief.
When the second child came along I was under that much stress with one thing and another and I ended up having MRI scans and CATSCANS. I was having dizzy spells; I couldn’t concentrate.
The relationship between her and I wasn’t as close as nurturing and supportive as it ought to have been. This repression I was practicing was probably the biggest stumbling block for us. I knew, really, that I was still a homosexual. I wasn’t a gay man, because a gay man is somebody who is open and accepting of himself and identifies openly as such.
The breakup occurred over about a period of three years.
I had only gone into cooking because I had to do something when I finished Year 12. In time I thought, ‘Hang on, I’m not doing this anymore; I’m going to do something that interests me’, so, when I was unemployed, I told them I wanted to learn how to work with computers. The CES put me through a pre-vocational course and that was a stepping-stone into management and administration. I began working as a business facilitator and client manager.
I started studying at TAFE and that meant I spent evenings by myself, working away, as you do. My wife told me that she felt increasingly alienated from me. Eventually she told me that she’d actually had an affair. That really put the seal on it. That was about 2001.
The day that will stick forever in my mind is December 10th 2002. The kids had done something at home and my frustration just boiled over. My wife and I had a fight and that morning, when I got into the office, I rang the Family Court and got a divorce kit. Then I rang the presiding overseer of the congregation and I just got a few words out and broke down.
I told him that I thought the marriage was over. He knew a little bit about our circumstances so he really wasn’t surprised. I think his words were, ‘I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner’. So to that extent, he was understanding and supportive.
I was flattened
He said, ‘You need to go and talk to a GP’. I was flattened, shattered. I had no energy left, nothing. I ended up going to my GP and going on sick leave. I was off work for three weeks. Immediately following that day, I took the kids out of school for three days and took them to Launceston, to stay with her parents, ironically enough. I went back to our home and stayed there for the three weeks off work.
When things had calmed down we started to talk realistically about our futures. She had actually been seeing somebody in the US over the internet. She said, ‘Eventually, I think within a matter of months, I’m going to apply for a divorce’. I agreed. I also said I wouldn’t oppose it.
A terrible decision
So she organised the divorce kit. In the meantime, I found reason to send my daughter over to stay with my parents for six months, which was a terrible decision, but at the time I thought it was the best one I could make, for her sake, because she was coming off the rails.
‘That’s your room’
And when that happened, the ex-wife made up the bed in my daughter’s room and said, ‘That’s your room; I want you to move out’. So that happened to me a second time. We decided that we would sell the house and divide the proceeds and I would bring the children back to Melbourne with me.
It was almost two years to the day, from that fight with the ex-wife to my being relocated in Melbourne. At the time, I was still in two minds about whether or not I was gay and I set about exploring that. I got a referral to a psychologist.
‘Gay bar? Not on your life!’
I think I had six counselling sessions. I reached a point where the psychologist said to me, ‘How far off do you think you are from quietly taking yourself into town and going into a gay bar?’ And I said, ‘Not on your life: never in a million years!’
The psychologist specialised in family matters. He did help, to some extent, and he was reasonably gay-friendly. He thought suggesting I go to a gay bar was the right thing to do, but my gut feeling was that it wasn’t the right way for me.
I went back to my GP and said, ‘Look, this counselling bit isn’t working. I’m having great difficulty accepting who or what I am. What are the options?’ I got referred to a gay doctor at the Prahran Market Clinic and he was a great help. (counselling)
The gay doctor
Because of the GP’s own background, he could talk to me. He was empathetic, supportive, compassionate, had a wonderful sense of humour. His perspective was more conducive to the sort of help I needed.
He came across as a perfectly normal decent reasonable human being. And as soon as you walked in, there’s no mistaking the community that they provide services to – it’s gay. When I sat down in the waiting room I realised I was relaxed.
I was more comfortable
I saw the doctor three or four times. I also had a sexual health check done there and I was more comfortable about doing this, because in the past I was so worried that people might suspect that I was a poof. Now I’m not even going to deny it.
One of the suggestions the doctor made was that I go into Hares and Hyenas, the gay and lesbian bookshop a few doors up. I ended buying myself some books on coming out and I had a great time.
Six months ago, I wouldn’t have gone into that bookshop, but I went in there and I asked the guy behind the counter for books on coming out. And he said, ‘That one’s a good one and that one and that one!’
There was one particular book that I picked up, written by a gay psychologist. When I read it, I understood myself as a gay man for the first time in my life, in a way that I have never understood myself before. I went home on the train with my books under my arm absolutely buzzing – I still am. It felt absolutely fantastic.
‘You’re a gay man’
I also bought the book, Finding out about Ian Roberts. I read this book fairly quickly and intensely and then, one Saturday - I had the house to myself - I finished the book and it just came out of me: ‘You’re a gay man’, and it’s like, ‘Wow, you are, yeah’, and I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to celebrate’, so I took myself down to the bottle shop to buy a bottle of champagne.
I crossed that barrier forever
Anyway, one bottle of champagne and a bottle of red wine later and it was about midnight. I was listening to the CD by James Blunt, the ex-British army tank captain, and it suddenly hit me. I started sobbing because I finally realised I was out to myself and I was out alone and I had to just hug myself for about an hour. Nearly 38 years of grief washed through me. And I then realised, well, that was it. I crossed that barrier forever. (coming out)
You suddenly realise that you are alone. You could have done this years ago, and you could have grown up with some teenagers who were going through exactly the same things you were. But there’s no point beating yourself up; you just have to grieve the loss and what is lost is lost. You just have to get on with the rest of your life.
The next step was to really start affirming my gay identity. I realised that I shouldn’t be out alone. I started finding excuses to come over to South Yarra and just be a part of walking down the street and watching how other men live as gay men. I also looked up the ALSO directory – a wonderful treasure trove for gay men coming out - and I started making phone calls. I rang the VAC, Textuality, GAMMA… (Peer education workshops)
It would be particularly difficult to explain why the marriage broke up to my son at the moment, because he has some issues around homophobia he’s picking up from school. He’s ten. My daughter, on the other hand, thinks everything is gay at the moment. This is gay, that’s gay: it’s got nothing to do having any gay friends, it’s just a term they toss around at school. But, since I’ve been volunteering at the VAC she’s become curious as to what all this activity is about.
In a moment of enthusiasm I put a profile on gaymatchmaker. And because I was one of the new kids on the block, I got some interesting responses. The bit about being divorced with two kids and living in a country town initially didn’t go down too well, but that’s all right.
The people who were having a look at my profile were quite often younger than me, in fact substantially younger, which surprised me. I had some responses that I followed up and I went out to dinner with some guys. The online stuff’s funny, you know, because sometimes the photos don’t tell you anything and other times the photos leave me shocked! Too much information! I feel more in control on the internet than in a bar. On-line, if I didn’t like what I saw then that’s it; it’s finished.
I was up for meeting guys but I also knew I was challenged because this is very much new territory for me. There was one guy who contacted me through matchmaker who I have now finally caught up with and that has since worked out all right – we’re going out to dinner tomorrow night for the third time.
I like this guy. He’s my age. I can have a conversation about anything. He’s got a good sense of humour and we seem to be able to keep the phone conversation going without any struggle. And there’s an element of attraction there.
I’m in no rush for a relationship. I’ve had two that have come to grief. I am far more philosophical about it now. The sex would be great but it’s not a priority; it just isn’t, because I discovered from my own experience that, to me at least anyway, it’s too deeply embedded in intimacy and closeness.
‘I don’t fuck on the first date’
The first guy I went out with that I met online, that was a very unpleasant experience. He was a snake, for one thing. As the conversation progressed I said, ‘I don’t fuck on the first date’. He said, ‘Ah damn, why not?’ I said, ‘Because I don’t and I’ve done things like that before and I’m not going to do it again’. He said, ‘Well how do you know what you like?’
He said, ‘How about going back to your place for coffee?’ and I said ‘No’. He said ‘Not for sex or anything’. I said, ‘No, that’s my refuge and my kids are there and I only just met you. I’m not prepared to take you into my home’.
‘This is so over!’
He said ‘Oh – you’re ashamed’. I said, ‘This is so over!’ It was an insult really: I’ve explained I’m in the coming-out process and I know there’s been shame, but I’ve had the guts to say, ‘Well I’m not going to do that any more’.
Some people have this view that if you’re not sexually compatible, or you don’t indulge in sexual practices that are mutually acceptable, there’s no basis for the relationship. That’s how gay men think. Well that’s something new to me and that’s something I have to learn about. I just wanted to meet gay men socially. (cruising)
I felt comfortable
I met two others: one is deeply intellectual, so I had something in common with him. The other one I didn’t, but we just sat down and had coffee and cake. We talked about all sorts of things. I thought, ‘There are decent gay men out there who are looking for some of the things I am’, so I felt comfortable.
I’ve never had a sexually transmitted infection. I know a whole lot more about sexual health than I did before I went to volunteer orientation at the VAC. I knew little bits – I knew it was important to use a condom if you wanted safe sex, be it heterosexual or homosexual. What I didn’t know or understand really were the issues around oral sex. It depends on which expert you go to - they just don’t say the same thing. (Oral sex)
If I was in a sexual relationship now, I would be more relaxed, because I know how to protect myself. The onus is on me not to rely on the other fellow to tell me whether or not he is positive or negative. Some will, as I understand it, but that’s not something you should count on. (safe sex)
My advice to anyone in a heterosexual marriage and dealing with their homosexuality is, for their own health’s sake, start the process. Look for people in organisations that can give you positive and constructive advice and information.
It was three months ago that I went to Hares and Hyenas and got those books that helped me come out. Now I will say it to anybody: I do like the gay man that I am. I think he’s a terrific bloke and for the first time since I was 15, I like the body that I’ve been blessed with. I feel comfortable in it and I love what I’ve got.
I’d like to come out to my children tomorrow, but the fact of the matter is I can’t, because I’m not ready to take that step myself. I know that my daughter may be receptive given her age and experience in life, but my son is another matter and I may need guidance coming out to him, because he is approaching the age where sexual identity may become an issue.
In a few years time, I’d like to be more out than I am now. That means that when people walk in the front door of my house, they know they’re walking into the house of a gay man. If they don’t like it then they don’t go there.
I’d like to be in a relationship with another man – but if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, I have a life to live and I’m going to damn well get on with it.
Update: 7 March 2006
Four months later I’ve came out to my daughter and she was very receptive. It was fine with her. She said, ‘Dad, I don’t want you to come home and not be who you are’. If we were arguing, sometimes she used to throw gay taunts at me, but she stopped. Now that she’s seeing me happy I think she’s discovering who I actually am. It’s a much healthier relationship.
I took my son on Pride March, but he’s not quite ready yet for the full story.
I’m volunteering now at the Victorian AIDS Council, doing outreach and volunteer training. It has really helped. It’s made me more confident and relaxed around gay men and affirmed my own worth as a human being. I’d recommend it to anyone!